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Blog: Making a difference

Service Learning is at the heart of what we do at Wenona. It informs our values and our life choices, so it was heartening to hear our students share what they have been doing at our Principal’s Assembly this week.

Community and Service Learning Prefects, Maddie and Grace opened the Assembly by talking about the importance of spirit and service at Wenona.

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“Today we will be hearing from various individuals who have been greatly involved in service here at School and beyond. We hope that the work these girls have done will demonstrate how easy it is to make a positive contribution to the community and that it will inspire others to become more involved. We are so lucky in so many ways, so it is imperative that we give back to others who aren’t as privileged. This year has been significant for Community and Service Learning, with plenty of ‘hands on’ service opportunities, and numerous events and fundraisers. One of the most notable examples was our amazing effort in the WorldVision 40 hour back-pack challenge, raising over $30,000. More than 250 Year 9 and 10 students completed their Service Learning in the Community (SLIC) program. Year 9 students headed off on their Service Learning trips, and many students completed service as part of the Duke of Edinburgh program.

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Our Service Clubs and House Service events included Waste-free Wednesdays, Friday Busking for Mission Australia, the Amnesty Sleepout for Youth Homelessness, our Gender Equity Toiletries Drive, Pride Day and raising funds and awareness for multiple community organisations and causes. We celebrated International Women’s Day, UN Day of the Girl, and National Reconciliation Week. A special mention must go to the 18 courageous girls who donated their ponytails to Sustainable Salons to make wigs for sufferers of cancer and alopecia.

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We are now getting into the festive spirit and will finish off the year with our annual Red Stocking Christmas drive. We are so excited. We know this coming year is going to be another great year for service. Maybe even the best one yet? A big thank you to all the wonderful staff who help support and mentor our service clubs and programs.” 

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Isla spoke about the impact the SLIC program had on her. “For my SLIC I headed out to the coast to work with an organisation called Clean 4 Shore. It is led by a man named Jono (Graham Johnston) and it aims to keep foreshores and waterways clean from litter and plastic. When I joined, we focused mainly on a place called Brisbane Waters, which is near Gosford. We spent most of our time in the mangroves, which I have to say are great for hiding rubbish. The excursions that I went on targeted very specific areas that have been problematic for a while. On this journey, I have learnt so many new things about the tides and about what happens behind the scenes in an organisation like this. Also, in sorting out all the materials, I’ve found out what items are most commonly discarded. The worst is straws! We also surveyed future clean-up sites to see what we needed to do there, revisited old areas to see if the community had kept it clean and maintained the area. It was very disappointing when this wasn’t the case. And I worked with a big group of people, scrambling through the mangroves to clean them up. It enabled us to get to know each other – especially when we got our hair caught in the mangroves – and after all that mud, we all needed a swim.

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There were so many moments that stood out for me, but the main one was the one realising the extent of the rubbish problem. I learnt that even though the bay or beach might look clean, it isn’t. It wasn’t until we stepped into the mangroves about 4 or 5 metres that we saw all the rubbish that had been scattered there with the tide lines. Underneath the seagrass and tangled through the trees, were plastic items ranging from soft plastics to shoes. Because of the sun, wind and constant water, the plastic becomes very brittle. When you tried to pick it up, the plastic would break into smaller and smaller pieces making it even harder to clear the area and meaning that the plastic is in our waterways forever. Jono tells me that he finds amazing things along the foreshores of the rivers. Apart from the plastic, there are multiple car seats, tyres, broken boats, and sometimes even a mattress! The time at Clean 4 Shore was both interesting and rewarding because we were helping the environment. But it was also depressing to see the extent of the problem of plastic in our waterways. Clean 4 Shore was an amazing way to interact with other people and I would highly recommend others to join the clean-up as it is such a rewarding process.”

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Darci chose to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity for her SLIC placement. “If you have gone on a Service Learning tour, you will be familiar with Rustic Pathways, who will have organised for you to be involved in projects like helping to build housing for people in poverty. Well, Habitat for Humanity is similar to Rustic Pathways in that it enables individuals, businesses and schools to travel overseas to build houses. Today, there are three billion people living in poverty around the world, and Habitat believes that a solid house is the first step to breaking the cycle. At Habitat, I have worked on a number of projects for staff, including a gala night to raise money for builds and producing a book that is distributed to schools with information about the destination of their tours or immersions. Whilst my work does not directly contribute to building houses for people in poverty, it allows me to provide resources for the volunteers to make their experience more worthwhile. I chose this service because it offered an opportunity locally to become more aware of the international environment. Throughout this experience, I have learnt about communities stricken by poverty on a mass scale, gained the cultural knowledge to interact with people around the world, and acquired tools to develop awareness of issues that require global attention. I have met the most amazing people while undertaking my SLIC. Working in a not-for-profit company means little pay and a lot of work, yet these employees dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others. We could always use more volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, so if anyone is interested, please ask me or Ms Seale for more information. Thank you.”

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Gracie and Jojo completed their SLIC with Mosman Netball. “We coached an Under 11 team of nine amazing girls. We spent every Tuesday of Terms 2 and 3 coaching this team, as well as coaching their games every Friday night. We had a rocky start losing our first three games, but soon with great determination and persistence, we made it to the top of the ladder. Our journey as a team was obvious as we taught them many different skills, which they then brought to the court. As a team we bonded together. The girls learned to rely on each other and learned about teamwork on and off the court. As coaches, we were faced with many challenges, whether it was managing the girls’ behaviour, or learning to adapt our teaching methods to individual girls. One player had cerebral palsy in her left side of the body, but she is an amazing player and we learned a lot from her. The girls were a lovely bunch of players and made our coaching job much easier. The parents also played a big part in this, as they supported all our judgement calls and decisions, which helped to motivate us as coaches. Mosman Netball is a great opportunity for enthusiastic netball players to share their skills with younger generations. We learnt a lot from our experiences as netball coaches as we were responsible for a group of young girls, whether that be their safety or their behaviour on and off the court. Coaching a team together was a great part of the whole opportunity as it was fun to coach the team together. We both play different position, so this allowed us to further the girls’ ability in netball. This experience put a lot of things into perspective for us and we thoroughly enjoyed it. SLIC is an amazing way of giving back to your community, learning responsibility and building bonds with people outside your peer group. We will continue to coach next year together, taking on two teams. We’ve loved this experience so much that we want to continue beyond doing it for our SLIC. We are so appreciative of this opportunity and would recommend it to everyone. It was a great learning experience. Thank you.”

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Amnesty Club Captains, Sophie and Maddy gave an update of their latest activities. “This past term, we have been looking at women’s rights, so they have choices when it comes to sexual health. Currently, we are looking to fundraise for Marie Stopes, an international not-for-profit organisation, which gives aid to women in developing countries for issues such as safe pregnancy termination. This charity is doing great work in giving women choice and agency in their reproduction rights and sexual health. It's important to help the millions of women who are struggling due to factors such as living in a remote location or financial hardship, which limits their choice. We need people to help us plan a fundraiser for this great cause so that we can provide support to these women! Over the last year, we have also supported Taldumande Youth Services, a not-for-profit organisation that supports vulnerable children and young people aged 12 to 21 years, and their families. We raised over $5000 from our Sleepout for Homelessness, which was a great success and it would be great to achieve the same thing for Marie Stopes.”
Environment Captain, Jasmin said, “The Environment Group meets every Thursday lunchtime in the Library classroom. We are focusing on increasing environmental awareness and making the School more environmentally friendly by our presence at Senior College and Middle School Assemblies, and the Spring Fair. We are looking into revamping the recycling and food waste disposal systems at the School and improving the waste-free Wednesday sales.” The Animal Welfare Group meets every Tuesday lunchtime in Room 7. We discuss issues such as the illegal wildlife trade, factory farming, whaling and animal racing. We are currently planning a fundraising day for endangered rhinos and a letter-writing campaign to encourage the banning of battery cages for hens. I’d encourage any student to join these clubs as they are a great way to meet like-minded people in a supportive and encouraging environment.”

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Chelsea round

Chelsea is a member of the Gender Equity Group. She said, “This year, the group co-ordinated a toiletry drive for our local women’s refuge, Mary’s House, and for Naremburn Family Care. Everyone in Gender Equity helped to sew bags for women who are trying to escape domestic violence, working efficiently as a team to produce them. We then filled the bags with essential toiletries, including soap, body lotion, hand cream, wet wipes, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste and sanitary products. They were then delivered to Naremburn Family Care and Mary’s House Women’s Refuge who were delighted with all the products they received.”

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Lucy is also a member of Gender Equity. She said, “We discuss issues faced by woman in wider society, ranging from discrimination in the workplace, to violence against women, to any issues we face now or will potentially have to face in the future as a woman. As a group, we have made sanitary bags for the women's shelter in Manly and we’ve set up the ‘He for She’ initiative, which focuses on the importance of safe relationships, building a platform for both girls and boys and men and women to interact in a healthy, safe environment, free from fear and violence.” 

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Rachel and Sofia are members of the Knitting Club. “Each Tuesday lunchtime, a large group of girls meets in the library to chat and do some knitting. Most of us are currently knitting squares to eventually make blankets for the Wrapped With Love project. They donate these blankets to countries in extreme poverty or in the midst of a natural disaster. Next year, we have a new initiative starting up: we are going to knit jumpers for penguins. Oil pollution is a serious threat to little penguins. When penguins become oiled, they will try to preen and clean the toxic oil from their feathers, ingesting it can kill them. It also damages their delicate feathers, which exposes their skin to cold temperatures, and they are left cold, heavy and unable to swim or hunt for food. Little penguin rehabilitation jumpers can play an important role in saving these oil-affected penguins. When oiled penguins are rescued and admitted to the Phillip Island Wildlife Clinic, knitted penguin jumpers may be temporarily placed on the penguins. These act as a barrier to prevent the penguin from reaching its oily feathers with its beak before Phillip Island Nature Parks Wildlife Rescue staff can clean them. It will then spend time recuperating and recovering at the Wildlife Clinic. If you have a spare lunch and know how to knit or would like to learn, we are always looking for more members to contribute to our projects!”

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Charlotte and Luisa are from the Music Therapy Group. They explained that Music Therapy is a way of helping people to feel better through music. “It’s about communication. We sing! We play to aged care residents and play music games with children. Students can do it for their SLIC and for the service component for their Duke of Edinburgh. One of the videos of our concerts this year got more than 1,358 views on Instagram and lots of positive comments.”

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Zoe, Kate and Lina spoke about the Student Alliance Networking Group (SANG) before Dr Scott presented the participants with certificates. “SANG is a group which comprises of students from Years 9 to 11 from girls’ schools across Sydney. The group meets once a term to discuss various women’s rights issues such as the gender pay gap, toxic masculinity, and the dream gap. We then collaboratively produce a product that can become part of the solution to our chosen problem, which is presented at a competitive showcase at the end of the year. The theme for 2019 is ‘More Powerful Together’, in line with the UN Women Australia theme. We saw many great products such as social media campaigns, billboards, websites, new parts of the education curriculum and in-class workshops. Congratulations to everyone who took part in SANG this year.”

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Tilly is the new Pride Alliance Captain and spoke about what the club does. “Pride Alliance is a social justice club that runs every fortnight, Tuesday lunchtimes in Room 6. We talk about the current LGBTQIA+ affairs, representation in the media, our favourite LGBT+ artists, tips and tricks, how we can improve the equity in this world, and more. Last term, the club held its very first own Pride Day. We raised $558 just from a bake sale and raffle, with the funds going towards Twenty10 - a Sydney-based foundation that provides a broad range of specialised services and support for LGBTQIA+ people. Everyone is welcome, no matter if you are gay, pan, straight, or don’t like to conform to labels (we are a group of allies and supporters). We are a close-knit club, so it’s a great way to meet people in other years! Also, in most meetings we provide baked goods and lollies. Additionally, if you turn up to meetings, it goes on your report… Every Week B, Tuesday lunchtime, in Room 6, we will be there, so please come today and join us for a fun time.”

There really is an activity, club, group or initiative for every student at Wenona to get involved and use their passions and interests to make a positive difference. Well done everyone! And a huge thank you to Director of Community and Service Learning, Ms Seale, who works tirelessly behind the scenes to organise SLIC placements and fundraising, as well as coordinating all the service clubs, groups and initiatives.